Thea was born in Sydney, Australia in 1961 and came to the UK in 1974. She obtained an MA in Botany and postgraduate diplomas in Countryside Conservation and Crop Protection. She then worked in agricultural research in Oxfordshire and moved to York in 1994 with her family. She sang in school and University choirs and later studied singing in York and joined York Opera in 2002.
Song Box began in 1994 when Thea started a small musical playgroup at Southlands Church in York whilst her sons were small. Eventually, there were around 22 musical play sessions a week, led by Thea and her “brilliant team of experienced session leaders”. In addition to “term time sessions”, families enjoyed taking part in interactive educational musical visits to York’s various attractions e.g. St Nicholas Fields, York Art Gallery and the University of York Gamalan Orchestra.
Around 2005, Thea started working with adults, aware that informal singing can be a “valuable and adaptable tool for connecting with others and enabling them to express themselves, creatively, socially and emotionally”. She welcomes everyone, including people who were “put off singing in childhood, and those with vocal and speech difficulties e.g. Parkinson’s, Aphasia, MS and Dementia”. She also works with profoundly disabled, non-verbal adults including those born disabled and those in the later stages of Dementia or other progressive disorders. Family, friends, carers and support workers are also welcomed and are included in the sessions.
Thea also created her “International Nursery Song Collection” in which York residents are invited to share nursery songs from their “diverse cultural heritages, along with insights into their lives and cultures” for use in local early years settings, schools and family Song Box sessions to foster multi cultural awareness, inclusion and respect.
She is passionate about “supporting personal development, community cohesion and cultural inclusion through shared music making and creativity”. This has led to many partnerships with local organisations e.g. York Unifying Multicutural Initiative (YUMI); York, Explore Library and Archives; Refugee Action York (RAY); St Nicholas Fields Environment Centre; York Travellers Trust; military families in North Yorkshire; York Interfaith Group; Age UK day groups; and various nursing and residential homes. She has participated in and arranged many concerts for charities and festivals including Breath Easy; SASH; International Women’s Week and multi cultural Remembrance Day events.
In 2018, Thea started “4G Song Box”, bringing young families into residential care homes to share “musical fun and friendship” with the residents. The sessions have been very moving for the residents, the visiting families and the care home staff.
Thea is a Jewish Faith Advisor to the Chaplaincy at York St John University where there are a number of Jewish staff and students. Her role involves providing people with information about Judaism, support in their personal Jewish practice or connection to local Jewish communities and also advising the University on Jewish matters e.g. festivals and catering. She feels honoured to work with other Faith Advisors and their communities, for instance, to support persecuted student refugees. They were also successful in encouraging the University to make positive changes in order to help combat climate change.
York Press 30 October 2018
Correspondence and conversation with Thea Jacob